2017 Lexus IS200t Review and Road Test

2017 Lexus IS200t

We take a drive in Lexus’ refreshed IS200t (it’s not the same as the 2016 model, we swear)

Words by: Adam Allen

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Lexus has refreshed the IS?  Really?

Only those who count themselves amongst members of the close-knit community of IS fans will be able to tell where Lexus’ extremely subtle nips and tucks have been employed. Those of us who aren’t as rabidly tuned into the model range will have a tougher time of determining what’s new, but look closely at the front and rear facias. You’ll see that the ‘Predator’ grille has gotten bigger, the air intakes that flank it are more pronounced and the new LED headlights have been made shrunken for a more menacing glare. Out back, the taillights have gotten some of the LED treatment as well and the dual exhaust outlets are now rectangular instead of their circular predecessors. They’ve also added a bunch of stuff that you can’t see- automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control as well as collision-mitigation and lane-departure-warning systems are all standard equipment which is officially known on the spec sheet as the Lexus Safety System+.

Lexus does interiors nicely, don’t they?

Ask anyone who owns a Lexus what they like best about their car and we’d bet almost everyone has complimentary feedback about the interior, and rightly so. Ever since the LS400 made its debut in the early 1990’s, Lexus has always been part of the conversation when it comes to brands that execute quality cockpits. Our IS tester was no exception. Everything feels quality and of substance, and looks like all the details were scrutinized before being green lit for production. While the infotainment system is showing its age somewhat, the LFA inspired instrument cluster (part of the F-Sport Package which adds $4,800) that slides over to give you more information at your request is not. Switch over to sport mode and when the revs climb, it flashes urgently as you approach redline and leaves a mark on the rev counter for an extra second so you can see exactly when the transmission upshifted. Of course, this provides zero functionality but it sure looks cool and illustrates that Lexus can still let its hair down in the name of fun. Our favorite parts of the interior would have to be the seats- they are simply fantastic. Those at Lexus responsible for their design have achieved the rare feat of offering great grip and lateral support but also comprehensive support and all-day comfort. The inside of the IS200t is, like every Lexus before it, a decadent place to digest highway miles. There’s very little road and wind noise, the delightfully chunky F-Sport steering wheel doesn’t require contact corrections to keep you locked onto the horizon and the stereo belts out your tunes with clarity.

The IS200t has good sports sedan credentials- does it put them to good use?

Lexus has always endowed the IS with good fundamentals to do battle in a segment dominated by the Audi A4, BMW 3 series and Mercedes Benz C class, and yet it trails the three Germans in the sales charts- witness that 3,033 IS’s made their way into Canadian garages last year while BMW moved 7,452 3 series in the same period of time. And while the 3 series has softened up a bit too much, the A4 has become too anodyne and sterile while outside of the AMG models the C class is nothing more than a boulevard cruiser the IS has never wavered- it has always tried to deliver on the Lexus mandate of “Engineered for Exhilaration.” After spending time traversing all kinds of roads in the IS, one thing is clear- they nailed that tricky balance between sharp handling and a comfortable ride. The IS lacks the urgency in directional changes and steering feel that some of its competitors have, but most folks will find the compromise in the suspension just about perfect for use as a daily driver. Our tester had an 8-speed transmission that can be shifted by steering wheel mounted paddles, but we recommend leaving the gear lever in Drive- using the paddles simply doesn’t offer the immediacy you want when shuffling through the ratios on your own. The transmission is mated to a 2.0 litre turbo that is worlds better than the anemic V6 it replaces- we just wished it sounded as good as it goes about its business. And although the four-cylinder engine packs an appreciable boost in horsepower over its predecessor, there’s still a noticeable moment of turbo lag when you open the taps at low revs even when you’ve selected Sport mode. A word about Sport mode- it’s set up so well in the IS that it became our default driving mode no matter the situation. In an era where thumbing the Sport setting on cars simply makes them feel frenetic and jittery, it was refreshingly composed and a pleasure to use in the IS.

What might go wrong?

Having the option of AWD on the six cylinder versions of the IS but not on the 200t might turn off customers who commute in areas that get a lot of snow in the winter. We know this engine can work with an AWD drivetrain- look no further than the NX200t crossover- but we actually prefer the rear wheels driven in a sports sedan like the IS, so we don’t see that as a huge demerit. Speaking of demerits, some might find the lack of a heated steering wheel and navigation unacceptable at this price, but you can work around this by using your smartphone for directions and wearing gloves on cold mornings. The only other aspects of the IS200t experience we’d complain about is a rear seating area that isn’t particularly commodious for adults and an infotainment system that’s starting to show its age.

Should I buy an IS200t?

Remamber the three German juggernauts the IS is competing against? They all command a larger price than the Lexus when similarly equipped, much more so when you start diving into the available options. For the most part, they can’t boast the same reputation for reliability and durability that Lexus can, nor do they top the various industry customer satisfaction surveys where Lexus is a perennial front runner. Not all buyers in the sports sedan space want something that feels aloof or uncompromisingly stiff when commuting to work and back and everything in between. And let’s not forget the after-sales service treatment customers can enjoy when they take their cars back to the dealership for maintenance- Lexus really has its rivals beat where that’s concerned. That on its own will be enough for some to visit their local dealership.

 

2017 Lexus IS200t- Specifications

  • Price as tested: $47,771
  • Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/rear-wheel drive
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Engine:  2.0-litre turbocharged inline four, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower:  241 @ 5,800 rpm
  • Torque (lbs-ft.): 258 @ 1,650-4,400 rpm
  • Curb weight: 1,625kg (3,583 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel Consumption: 11.9L/100km (20 mpg)